A home for the Mary Rose

By | Category: Travel destinations

The three red marks highlight that these were the first parts of the Mary Rose seen when divers first went down into the Solent

With so much coverage given to the opening of the Mary Rose Museum yesterday, you might feel you have seen and heard enough. For those who have, move onto another story now because I am about to tell you my impressions of the museum.
Thirty-one years ago I watched the coverage on TV when the ship was lifted in its distinctive yellow hold-all. Prince Charles was there and had previously dived to the wreck. In a talk given by Margaret Rule – the archaeologist whose task it was to find and raise the vessel – she suggested that without him, the raising of the Mary Rose might never occurred.
Into a temporary building went the remains as did we visitors to see her. It was misty with water being sprayed on the timbers; it was damp and it was cold.
After much help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the work of the Mary Rose Trust, a purpose built museum has opened; a museum which I heard described erroneously as a “wave-like structure” by one BBC broadcaster yesterday morning. It is ship-like in its form with one end having a deck and rail in the open and the other side having glass in which visitors can see reflected Nelson’s HMS Victory or anything else moored nearby.

as sleek as the ship it houses

But whilst the outside of the building at the back is clever and echoes the structure of the boat even down to the scratched markings in the “hull” of the museum building, marks similar to those that would be made by carpenters, the excitement is inside where the concept of mirroring continues.
On one side of the museum is the raised hull with the individual decks clearly seen. As only one side of the ship was found in the silt, the other side of the ship has been built to mirror the salvaged side but here are to be found the finds. In between is the walkway so visitors can relate one side to the other. Everything comes from the wreck except perspex which has been used to replace materials that have rotted due to age.

surviving shoes not modern replicas

Nineteen thousand artefacts were brought up from the ship and the vast majority have never been seen before. You would expect cannon, shot, swords and knives even if the metal had decayed over the years but the silt has nourished some items you might not expect to see. There are boots and shoes, the leather covers of books, nit-combs and wooden chests containing the worldly goods of some of the 500 who died when the Mary Rose sank. There is even the skeleton of a dog – Hatch- who must have been the companion of one of the crew as well as a rat-catcher. Today toy Hatches can be bought in the shop. Finding something like that somehow brings the sorry saga closer to reality.
And that has been a claim by some of the visitors who have toured the museum. That these personal objects make it seem more real. The rope which used to lash anchors is still there. I picked up a length and the smell of sea water and tar can still be smelt even after these four hundred years. Most of the rope cannot be uncoiled because it would break so this eighteenth-inch length is kept to show visitors.

sniffing rope!

The finds have been ground-breaking at times forcing historians to re-write what were previously thought to be facts. Ten musical instruments were found so sailors obviously created some entertainment for themselves. There are fiddles and bows, pipes and a drum, some to a design that we previously didn’t know. Some items had multi-purpose values. A stool has four legs plus cut marks which seems to show that it was not just a place to sit and rest but also a lace of work.
A basket hilted sword was found yet many had believed that these didn’t come into existence until later on in our history. The same applies to the doucaine, a three-foot long clarinet-type instrument. Its finding shows that it was around fifty years earlier than most historians thought. It is also the only one of its type in the world to survive.

pulling a long bow replica

Strange as it may seem given all those films and television series about Robin Hood, we didn’t actually know what a longbow was like. Mary Rose provided us with 130 bows plus wrist guards and demonstrated that these weapons could be used to fire further than had previously been thought. Yet long bows would be obsolete in a few short decades as gunpowder became dominant. It is thought that Mary Rose might have been the first ship to fire a broadside. If she was then Mary Rose would be even more important because she reflects a time when fighting was changing from the mediaeval to a more modern approach.
Located in the dockyard at Portsmouth, Mary Rose adds to a large complex of museums. HMS Victory is here as is HMS Monitor that served in Gallipoli in WWI. So is HMS Warrior, once the largest warship in the world, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Queen Victoria’s own motor launch that would ferry her to the royal yacht. With so much to see it would be hard to do justice to all in less than half a day. Many will spend a day here and all it will cost to see everything will be £23.40 if you book online where you will save 10% on the gate price. That will give you as many visits as you like in the space of a year.

In the middle is the all so-important doucaine

By the way, if you receive the BBC News Channel then on Saturday at 2.30pm you can see a half-hour programme called Mary Rose Reborn which will show many more aspects of the vessel, the museum and the history since she was lifted from the floor of the Solent. the BBC has also put up a lot of stories on its website which expand on what is written here.
Although it has been over thirty years since she was raised and conservation has continued since, it isn’t completed. Now Mary Rose must be dried out slowly and carefully over the next 4-5 years.
The Mary Rose was in service for 33 years before she sank. During that time she was present in battles against the French and was part of the escort that took Henry VIII to that most sumptuous sixteenth century case of one-upmanship, the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Why she sank, no-one is quite sure. That she did and sank into the rich silt of the Solent is why we have so much today. And that is why you’ll be surprised and awed by what you see when you visit.

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